Foundational Skills

The purpose of Watershed’s Foundational Skills program is to enhance our practice, as students and teachers, in developing a foundation of readiness for more advanced work.

Watershed teachers have developed a list of basic and valued fundamental skills. For the most part these skills are cross-disciplinary and can be employed in many pursuits, academic or otherwise. We recognize that these skills represent a baseline and that content knowledge and additional skill development are important.   

Students will be asked to document their skill development by maintaining a portfolio (described below) of exemplary work. Our intent is that most students will provide evidence in each skill area demonstrating that they have met or exceeded the standard by the end of 10th grade. Some students may require more time.  

Adopting this approach will enhance the clarity and cohesion of our 9th and 10th grade academic program. It will require a focus on content mostly as a means to practice skills - in some cases course planning where content is no longer a primary organizing principle.

How the Foundational Skills program works:

  1. Students, in consultation with teachers or advisors, submit evidence to document skill acquisition.

  1. Each numbered skill area on the Foundation Skills list details what form of evidence is required, such as a paper, or essay, or video, or photograph.

  2. Standards for these submissions are in the form of rubrics available to students through links provided on the list. These rubrics may also function as a coaching tool and a method to measure progress.

  3. One or more teachers may review the submission and, if it meets or exceeds the standard,  the work will be included in the student’s digital Foundation Skills Portfolio.

  1. Progress reports for 9th & 10th grade still have a narrative component but are centered around Foundation Skills rubrics describing how students acquire the skills in question.  

  1. Semester-end narrative evaluations are accompanied by a “Foundational skills summary:” a status report on the student’s portfolio.

  2. This summary includes suggestions for work over the winter break and particularly over the summer,  such as tutoring or other options as recommended by teachers.

  1. This type of progress report and summary continue, as necessary, into the 11th and 12th grades until students complete their portfolios. Students with completed skill portfolios continue to receive coaching, but perhaps with an increasing “summative” focus on content acquisition or quantitative assessments.

How does the Foundational Skills program help with college applications?

  • Students may be better prepared to write essays, both on applications and for external exams like the SAT. Mathematical reasoning may also be enhanced.

  • Colleges will receive a copy of our skills list  as part of our school fact sheet. Colleges will learn that we structure our school to train for academic and intellectual skill development  -  another feather in our students’ caps.

  • The school will provide examples of exceptional skill development by some students.

  • Students will be better prepared for internships, advanced and challenging courses, overseas experience, independent studies or other activities that enhance acceptance to colleges.

Foundational Skills List*


  1. adjusts approach to reading based on purpose and text

  2. forms a comprehensive summary of information gained from reading


Competence in expository writing at the level of the:

  1. word (word choice, tone);

  2. sentence (clarity, conciseness, rhetorical technique, grammar/punctuation);

  3. paragraph (thesis development, summarizing, sequence, integrating information)

  4. writing form (audience, frame, topic choice, form-specific conventions)

3. NUMERACY  (refers to the ability to relate mathematical ways of reasoning -- and apply mathematical and statistical methods -- to real world issues and situations.)  

The numerate student is able to:

  1. use basic mathematical concepts such as multiplication, exponents, orders of magnitude, percentage, proportions

  2. make use of measurement tools, incorporating significant figures

  3. find or check relations among physical quantities using dimensional analysis

  4. interpret and create graphs

  5. use abstract symbols in quantitative reasoning

  6. solve quantitative problems with the use of logic-based sequential thinking

  7. recognize and describe how relationships such as functions can relate two quantities--an input and an output

4. DISCOURSE (Public Speaking)

  1. planning:  determine purpose; choose and scope topic; provide effective visuals, word choice, transitions

  2. delivery:  clear articulation, varied delivery; language appropriate to audience; visuals employed effectively; effective non-verbal behavior


  1. observe and measure using a variety of lab tools and metrics

  2. use spreadsheets for data collection and analysis

  3. analyze and present data

  4. design, carry out, and refine an experiment

  5. communicate information through writing, posters, and presentations


Render ideas in 2 and 3 dimensions employing basic drawing skills -- representation, perspective, layout, emphasis, measurement -- and basic three dimensional modeling skills


This skill refers to the activities required to go from idea to manifestation of that idea. This includes process tools such as flow charts, concept development visuals, drafting plans, modeling or prototype construction, testing, redesign etc. Basic tool use: fastening, cutting, boring, squaring, plumbing, leveling, disassembly/reassembly.


  1. question formulation (produce, refine, prioritize)

  2. effective note-taking (during presentations and reading)

  3. information research using internet or library sources: primary sources, databases, maps, journals, websites

  4. informational interviews

  5. evaluation of information including strategies for critiquing historical, scientific, quantitative and other categories of information


Effectively find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information using computer hardware, software, the Internet, and handheld devices.

  1. spreadsheets

  2. graphing

  3. cloud-based documents, group editing

  4. visual, video and sound editing

  5. familiarity with basic programming, 3D drawing and printing

  6. digital citizenship


A.  collaboration (effective team-work, group decision-making)

B.  governance

C. community development

D. social media issues

E. basic social skills

F. listening and providing feedback


A. study/life skills (organization, Cornell notes, time management, planning and setting goals)

B. persistence/attitude

C. basic social skills

D. listening and providing feedback

E. ethical decision-making

F. stress management

G. generic skills of the valued employee